Scientists have stepped in to debunk a dangerous conspiracy theory that the coronavirus outbreak is somehow linked to 5G mobile phone technology.
The past few days have seen mobile phone masts being set on fire in Britain, and wild conspiracy theories spreading online.
Cabinet office minister Michael Gove described the claims as “dangerous nonsense”.
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Conspiracy theorists have claimed that 5G technology either causes the symptoms of coronavirus, or somehow triggers its effects, claiming that the fact there is a 5G network in Wuhan is proof of these claims.
Staff working for British telecoms networks have even received threats and abuse.
In response, social networks such as Facebook and YouTube have said they will now remove content linking coronavirus to 5G.
Viruses and phone networks are totally different
Experts including Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at University of Reading, have dismissed the claims as “complete rubbish”.
One of the key points, Clarke said, is that viruses and radio networks are two different, unrelated things, and comparing the two is meaningless.
He said: “The idea that COVID19 is caused by 5G mobile phone signals is complete rubbish. This is a disease which numerous doctors and scientists around the world have said is caused by a virus, something completely different to a mobile phone signal.
“Viruses are tiny particles made up of genetic material, wrapped in a layer of proteins and fats. They have no metabolism and can't reproduce without causing an infection.
“In the case of this coronavirus, it infects cells in human lungs in order to replicate, damaging them and also causing a harmful immune reaction in the process.”
Viruses are completely different things, Clarke said.
“5G radio signals are electromagnetic waves, very similar to those already used by mobile phones. Electromagnetic waves are one thing, viruses are another, and you can't get a virus off a phone mast.”
We know coronavirus is caused by a virus
Everything that we currently know about the coronavirus is based on scientific research, said Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at University of Southampton.
He said: “Virus experts have looked at the genetic code of the virus to track its origins. Epidemiologists have tracked the spread of the virus around the world, identifying risk factors to advise policy.
“Diagnostics researchers are developing tests to identify those with the infection and those who have been infected. Collectively, we know how infectious diseases spread. Scientific papers are published, new knowledge is generated. That is what experts do.”
There are samples of the virus already growing in labs, pointed out Professor Adam Finn, of University of Bristol.
Finn said: “The present epidemic is caused by a virus that is passed from one infected person to another. We know this is true. We even have the virus growing in our lab, obtained from a person with the illness.”
5G technology has already been tested
Campaigners have fought against 5G in many areas of Europe, claiming that the new technology carries health risks to people near the masts.
But a comprehensive review of the technology by an international body in charge of radiation limits found that, at the levels it is used in the real world, the tech is safe.
The International Commission on Non‐Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), which assesses the risks of radio broadcasts, tested a high-frequency version of 5G which is coming to Europe, The Guardian reported.
It concluded that at the levels used in real-world mobile networks, the technology carries no real risks to humans.
Public Health England has previously said there is no “convincing evidence” that 5G adversely affects peoples’ health.
Dr Eric van Rongen, chair of the ICNIRP, said: “We know parts of the community are concerned about the safety of 5G and we hope the updated guidelines will help put people at ease.”
Social networks stamping down on 5G lies
Social networks have classified the rumours as “false” and have said they are “dangerous”.
YouTube has said it will remove videos linking coronavirus and 5G.
A Facebook spokesperson said: “We are taking aggressive steps to stop misinformation and harmful content from spreading on our platforms and connect people to accurate information about coronavirus.
“Under our existing policies against harmful misinformation, we are starting to remove false claims which link COVID-19 to 5G technology and could lead to physical harm.
“We will continue to work closely with governments and other tech companies to remove harmful misinformation and have partnered with health authorities like the WHO and NHS to connect people to the latest official guidance.”